Margaret Wehrenberg Psy.D.

Depression Management Techniques

Lighten Up Your Depression With a Movie

Stay in and watch a movie - it just might improve your mood!

Posted Oct 23, 2014

Doesn't everyone have movies they watch again and again without tiring of the story or the characters? I have a list of movies I watch every year around the holidays, and I even have movies that I think are good for the spring, July 4th and for the fall of the year. I have movies that I watch if I want a laugh, and movies that just make me feel good if I am in a low mood. I don't think movies have to be of great cinematic value or push the boundaries of technology to have impact on your mood.

I recommend some movies to my clients for specific topics, even if the film is particularly deep. I want them to relate to a particular character's struggle or decision in a situation.

Unlike reading, watching movies gives the viewer the option to absorb a story complemented by music to intensify the emotion or movement of the plot and it comes with the ease of seeing the characters' faces and hearing their voices make meaning of the words. The visual and auditory components can stimulate emotions in powerful ways, providing the opportunity to engage fully with story, to get emotions out of your system, to stir empathy for the characters (and possibly for oneself) and perhaps even feel less alone in your situation.

When you are depressed and brain energy is at an ebb, the sensory input of the movie can stimulate your interest and require far less energy to take in the story than reading requires. The power of film is also in its intent. You can derive great benefit from comedy: no matter what tickles your funny bone, laughing is good medicine for depression. You may love the low-brow humor of The Hangover, the old-fashioned humor of a screwball comedy like Bringing up Baby, or the cultural satire of Airplane, or even the more sophisticated humor of Midnight in Paris. Whatever your taste, find a movie that makes you laugh and watch it. You will feel better. 

Some movies bring us to tears and help to release our own emotions while feeling the pain or being moved by the struggle of a character. Perhaps a musical such as Les Miz, or heart-wrenching films like Terms of Endearment or 12 Years a Slave or dramas like The Interpreter or In America or Gravity or Finding Neverland or It's a Wonderful Life can make you feel the despair but also give you a vision you desperately need of how determination in a person of good character can emerge strong from loss and tragedy. They can show how love in its many forms can persist and strengthen you.

Even without high drama, movies can offer hope and humor or action at the same time. A perennial holiday favorite, Love Actually, is high on that list, but a long string of others can fit this model: Juno, The Way, Way Back, The Blind Side, Second Hand Lions, The Dallas Buyer's Club, Saving Mr. Banks, Die Hard, or even the Star Wars Trilogy.

There are many more films that deserve mention, but I wanted to name some of the variety of choices that you might include in your goal of seeing how people survive and come out stronger from life's trials. That vision alone can be an anti-depressant.